The guest list at this historic hotel has always included illustrious figures. President Abraham Lincoln actually lived here for 10 days in 1861 before moving into the White House, one block away. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stayed here in August 1963, finishing the writing of his historic “I Have a Dream” speech before delivering it on August 28, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And from its very start, the Willard has hosted foreign dignitaries, from Japan’s first delegation to the U.S. (three Samurai ambassadors and their entourage of 74 in 1860) to…well, take a look at which head of state is scheduled to visit the White House, and there’s a good chance that dignitary is booked at the Willard.
The spacious guest rooms, completely refurbished in 2018, are elegantly decorated with dark wood furnishings; shades of blue, cream, and gold; and comfortable extras like a velvet armchair and ottoman. Ask for courtyard-facing rooms for quiet, or Pennsylvania Avenue-facing rooms for views of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, or even the Jefferson Memorial, (the higher your floor, the better the sights). The expansive oval suites offer the best views, from floor-to-ceiling windows that sweep down Pennsylvania Avenue almost to the Capitol.
But you’re here as much for the history and ambience as for a place to sleep. You must enjoy a cocktail at the Round Robin Bar, expertly mixed by barman Jim Hewes as he tells tales about Willard guests, from Charles Dickens to Bill Clinton (Hewes also hosts a popular monthly History Happy Hour in the Willard Room, where he and a guest historian or author serve up potent libations and entertaining stories from Washington’s past); stroll through the lobby and admire its mosaic floor, marble columns, and ornate ceiling; and tour the history gallery filled with memorabilia, such as a copy of Lincoln’s hotel bill. Check out the Willard’s calendar. In addition to the History Happy Hour mentioned above, varied events—afternoon tea, Kentucky Derby Day soiree, Christmas tree viewing and caroling throughout December—attract as many locals as hotel guests. Finally, stop by Café du Parc and sit on the terrace if possible, to savor the views and the lovely French brasserie tastes of boeuf bourguignon and croque monsieur.